Sweeping changes to policing in Ireland as part of a new Garda operating model – including increasing the number of front-line gardaí – were announced today by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.
Here is everything we know so far about the changes.
What is the new Garda Operating Model?
The new Garda Operating Model, launched by the Garda Commissioner today, hopes to achieve a number of commitments which include increasing the number of gardaí involved in front-line policing, create larger garda divisions with a wider range of specialist skills and make these new divisions more autonomous and self-sufficient. It will be brought into effect on Monday, August 26, and will be implemented over the next three years.
Commissioner Harris said that the aims are to have more sworn garda officers on the streets, and to significantly reduce the number of administrative units so that officers are not tied up with bureaucracy.
Assistant Garda Commissioner Michael Finn also said that the new model will mean less paper work for gardaí, and greater career opportunities.
What are the changes being made?
The main changes being brought in under the new Operating Model are to Garda Regions and Divisions. Currently there are six Garda Regions, but this will be reduced to four as part of the sweeping changes.
The Northern Region, which mainly encompasses the border counties, will amalgamate with the Western Region to form the North/West Region, save for Clare.
A new South/West Region including Clare and Tipperary will be formed, while the East and South East Region will be incorporated to form the East Region. The Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) will remain the same.
The most significant changes are to the garda divisions, which will reduce drastically from 28 to 19. The Roscommon/Longford division will form with Mayo, and Laois/Offaly will join with Kildare. Clare and Tipperary, which will now cover a significant geographical area, will also become one division, as will Wicklow/Wexford; Cavan, Monaghan and Louth; as well as Waterford, Kilkenny and Carlow.
More responsibility will be given to Garda Chief Superintendents overseeing a division, who will decide the best model which suits their area.
What is it hoped to achieve?
Essentially, less gardaí behind desks and more gardaí on the frontline. The main aim of the new Operating Model is to make each Garda division autonomous and to increase the overall number of frontline gardaí across the country by 800 individual officers by 2021.
From 2017 to 2019, 1,070 Garda staff have been recruited and a further 1,265 are expected to recruited by end of 2021 to free up sworn garda members for policing duties, with 1,500 recruits to come out of Templemore by 2021.
Each garda division will have two Superintendents with responsibility for Community Engagement, as part of An Garda Síochána’s plan to improve community policing.
A Detective Superintendent will also be placed in charge of serious crime in each division, with a team of Detective Inspectors.
A Superintendent will also be in charge of Performance Assurance while a Assistant Principal will oversee business services for their division.
Each garda division will comprise between 600 and 800 gardaí. The new model will also free up garda national units to deal specifically with more regional and national issues. There will also be an increased focus on cyber crime and economic crime.
Why was the model being changed?
The current district model has been in place for around 100 years, and Gardaí say needs to be developed to match the changing needs of society. The Divisional Policing model was one of the main recommendations made by the Garda Inspectorate in their ‘Changing Policing in Ireland’ report.
In their assessment the oversight body said that the “current structure is highly inefficient and a move to a much smaller number of divisions would release significant numbers of members and garda staff from administrative work back to front-line duties.
“With the recommendation to move to a divisional policing model, the Inspectorate believes that the divisional chief superintendent should have full responsibility for all aspects of policing. This includes full authority over the deployment of all personnel (members and garda staff) within their division,” the report added.
This was supported by a Government decision in 2016 to replace the current district model, as well as more recently a recommendation by the Commission on the Future of Policing.
How has it been received?
There have been mixed responses to the announcement of the new model between oversight bodies and garda bodies.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) said it will support the implementation of the new operational policing model but that there are unanswered questions around funding, manpower, and the impact on rural policing.
AGSI has also said it remains unconvinced that the new model will operationally improve policing delivery to the public. Garda Superintendents are also understood to have raised concerns with the Garda Commissioner at a meeting this week around severance packages for its members, the lack of promotional opportunities with a reductions in senior officers, and the lack of consultation.
Meanwhile the Garda Inspectorate has welcomed the new model, with Chief Inspector Mark Toland saying that “rationalising the number of divisions will create significant benefits including an increase in the number of front line resources and a more responsive and consistent approach to the delivery of policing services.”
The Policing Authority has also supported the new model, and said that when implemented it should result in an increase in Garda resources and greater autonomy at divisional level, which will make it possible to better respond to the specific needs of the local community.
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